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Stories > Grounded The Past Built The Future

Grounded in the Past, Built for the Future

The Kadoorie Estate before site development in the 1930s
The Kadoorie Estate before site development in the 1930s
The Kadoorie Estate today
The Kadoorie Estate today
The word “Kowloon” is evocative, exciting and ever-changing. For many, it conjures up images of old Hong Kong films: streets alive with colour and people and noise, everyone buying, selling and shouting at once; cars, buses and taxis vying for space; and after dark, gritty transactions made in ramshackle buildings, every window bathed in the glow of nonstop neon.

But for others, Kowloon holds a different meaning – spacious houses and apartments filled with light and fresh air, scenic views over a stunning urban landscape, homes where families eat, sleep and bond, making memories that last a lifetime.

The story of The Kadoorie Estate is in many ways the rags-to-riches story of Kowloon itself – rising from inhospitable fields to become a place of extraordinary significance. Bought by the Hongkong Engineering & Construction Co. in November 1931 for just HK$326,000; this barren granite hill was gradually transformed into a green urban oasis during the 1930s, home to luxury properties and colonial-style mansions.

From the start, the developers of Kadoorie Hill planned for the future – one of their first acts was to plant an avenue of ornamental trees along the estate’s main thoroughfare. These trees grew quickly in the tropical sun and rain, providing shade for the workers as they built houses, bungalows and the St. George’s Court apartment complex.
They stood, growing in silence, as these dwellings were taken over by Japanese forces during the wartime occupation of Hong Kong and continued to stand as they witnessed the return of civilian tenants in 1946 and the Estate’s development during the 1950s, when it expanded in size to 57 houses and 35 apartments. As these trees rose, so did modern-day Kowloon, with commercial and residential buildings relentlessly ascending around this green paradise.

Many of these eucalyptus, cinnamon, flame-of-the-forest and pine trees still line Kadoorie Avenue, almost 90 years after they were planted, forming a fragrant and colourful green corridor that connects the memories of past residents to the present day.

Today, Kadoorie Avenue is bounded by Argyle Street to the south and Prince Edward Road to the north, surrounded by the high-rise residential and commercial buildings which characterise the rest of Kowloon. Turning left from Argyle Street, the road climbs peacefully upwards. As you gently rise above the noise and bustle of Mongkok, you immediately sense a change in the atmosphere. Large premium properties for rent lie on either side of the street, with the luxury apartments for rent in the low-rise St. George’s Court marking the peak of the Estate.

A few minutes into the journey, all of Mongkok’s commotion fades away and is replaced by sounds from another time and place: birds chirping, gentle sweeping, quiet voices murmuring from grassy yards.

The most striking feature of The Kadoorie Estate is the architecture of the buildings themselves – many of which were designed in the Bauhaus tradition. Looking at these unique buildings transports you back to a time when design meant much more than maximising space and revenue, a time when details mattered.

In contrast to the rest of Kowloon, which insistently reinvents itself every few years, the past is a welcome friend at The Kadoorie Estate, where preserving heritage has always been a priority. These premium properties and their gardens have been scrupulously kept in excellent condition, while renovations – only conducted when tenants move out ¬– have been guided by the spirit of the past. Newly renovated houses are equipped with all modern conveniences, but are still rooted in a time gone by, as evidenced by the working fireplaces, teakwood floors and staircase rails, iron railings and lush, tranquil gardens.

“Who are the people who lived here?” you ask yourself. Primarily owned by Kadoorie Estate itself, in the past, these luxury properties were mostly rented to VIPs in the corporate, trading, shipping and aviation spheres, where they and their families lived happy, prosperous lives, often staying for years and decades – a couple of tenants who moved in in the 1950s remain on the Estate today. The modern-day tenants of the 85 houses include some of Hong Kong’s most elite names in the business and entertainment world as well as top medical professionals and C-level executives.

The story of The Kadoorie Estate continues, with unwritten chapters stretching out long into the future. Young children, whose stories are just beginning, laugh and play in the gardens and spacious rooms of these beautiful heritage homes. While the old days of Hong Kong may be gone, The Kadoorie Estate provides a strong, unbroken link to these days through the conservation of heritage architecture – while ensuring that another generation of tenants live in style and modern comfort, making new memories to last another lifetime.